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February 27, 2006

al-Qaeda & Abqaiq: The Success of Failure

On Friday afternoon in Eastern Saudi Arabia, two car bombs were detonated in an attempt to cripple the world’s largest oil processing center, the ARAMCO complex in Abqaiq (also known as Buqayq). The attempt largely failed in its primary mission, but also largely succeeded in its secondary mission, which is more and more becoming recognized as a form of information warfare via the world’s media outlets.

Two results emerge from this measure of success. The first result, clearly visible and readily measurable, was the instant jump in oil prices worldwide and the psychological effect it had on the world’s economic systems, regardless of the absence of any actual immediate commodity disruption. The second result, more obscured and not immediately measurable, is the psychological surge the attack surely provides to terrorists (primarily those in Saudi Arabia but also globally), regardless of the level of primary mission success. These results should be seen for what they are: Victories from a ‘failed’ attack with very tangible immediate and long-term effects.

Since the attack, al-Qaida has claimed responsibility, including their version of events, and promised that there were more to come. They should be taken at their word, as the Saudi security arms most certainly are. As of this writing, there are reports that Saudi security forces have had at least one additional clash just outside of Riyadh.

Two of the killed terrorists were on Saudi Arabia’s version of the ‘Most Wanted’ list. Security Watchtower keeps tabs of the Kingdom’s Most Wanted and has an excellent graphic displaying the entire list. Currently, 47 of the top 50 on the Saudi Arabian list have either been killed or captured. Also interesting is the two killed terrorists’ apparent blood relationship to key Saudi figures, including ‘King Abdullah’s closest advisor for over 50 years’ and the head of Saudi Arabia’s religious police, a Wahhabi cleric.

The al-Qaeda statement that named the two suicide bombers claimed that the ‘assault squad’ that led the way for the suicide bombers to enter ARAMCO’s first set of gates managed to escape from the scene. Saudi officials said four terrorists died. Curiously, Saudi officials confirmed the somewhat embarrassing identities of the two terrorists named in the al-Qaeda statement, but seems to have not released the names of the other two bodies they reported as also killed in the attack.

Insofar as the failure to actually destroy or even disrupt any portion of the Abqaiq facility’s capacity, the failure of this attempt at a spectacular attack is symptomatic of extremely decentralized nature, where disparate groups often work autonomously without the ability or desire to branch out for maximum utilization of resources, both human and material. But this weakness is also their strength. John Robb hits the nail on the head.

Remember, al Qaeda is open source now. It is operating at a level of decentralization that will allow it to take the war to many locations simultaneously without central management. Bin Laden’s threats reflect his inside knowledge of what is now a self-directed movement and not planning he has directed personally. Despite all of this current activity in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, we should also expect to see systems disrupted against US mainland targets in the not too distant future. The organization has more than enough capacity to accomplish this.

While large-scale spectacular attacks are less frequent and meet less success, the number of attacks will almost certainly be on the rise, especially in Saudi Arabia, but elsewhere as well. Dependent on the degree of communication that exists among regional cells, the swarming tactic remains the most viable means for asymmetric operations, rather than the spectacular event.

February 24, 2006

'Green Salt Project': Iran Admits Another Nuclear Deception

Iran has provided the IAEA with documents on a program they had denied existed only two months ago - after the US released intelligence to the IAEA. With the IAEA Board of Governors meeting rapidly approaching, Iran now appears to be making typical gestures of ‘coming clean’. This time, it’s the ‘Green Salt Project’ back in the news, with Iran now producing documents on that very program. The ‘Green Salt Program’ was first made public in late 2005 when US intelligence began divulging some details of the kinds of nuclear information that was present on a laptop produced from Iran.

Exactly what information Iran provided to the IAEA today on their ‘Green Salt Project’ is not known. What is known is that when the question of a ‘Green Salt Project’ was first posed to Iran by the IAEA, Iran called the accusations baseless. And as they’ve done with prior ‘accusations’ - we now learn that this too was Iranian deception.

It was expected that the subject would be a topic of focus for El Baredei’s full report to be delivered at the March 6 meeting on Iran’s nuclear program. It was mentioned in the January 31, 2006 IAEA Update Brief that El Baredei had prepared for the Security Council in lieu of a full report.

On 5 December 2005, the Agency reiterated its request for a meeting to discuss information that had been made available to the Agency about alleged undeclared studies, known as the Green Salt Project, concerning the conversion of uranium dioxide into UF4 (“green salt”), as well as tests related to high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which could have a military nuclear dimension and which appear to have administrative interconnections. On 16 December 2005, Iran replied that the “issues related to baseless allegations.” Iran agreed on 23 January 2006 to a meeting with the DDG-SG for the clarification of the Green Salt Project, but declined to address the other topics during that meeting. In the course of the meeting, which took place on 27 January 2006, the Agency presented for Iran’s review a copy of a process flow diagram related to bench scale conversion and communications related to the project. Iran reiterated that all national nuclear projects are conducted by the AEOI, that the allegations were baseless and that it would provide further clarifications later.

Consider Iran’s latest move nothing more than a pre-emptive strike. They have had ample time now to massage the information, including the preparation of any facilities to match what they are providing should any inspections be eventually demanded by the Security Council and agreed to by Iran.

Once again, the secretive and deceptive nature of Iran’s ‘peaceful nuclear energy program’ contradicts this persistent claim.

‘Green Salt’ is a term given to uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), which is a mid-point state of uranium in the process of converting uranium ore into the UF6 uranium fuel used in nuclear plants or, alternatively, further enriched for weapons-grade uranium. Essentially, it is a section of the fuel cycle that Iran has not divulged until now, days before the IAEA meeting that will ultimately condemn them before the United Nations Security Council formally takes up the Iranian nuclear crisis.

On the heels of this important and self-revelatory Iranian news, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer urged the United States to join the European Union in Iran negotiations. “It would be really helpful if the United States could join. We have an important opportunity to solve this if we work together. Europe is not strong enough.”

The Bush Administration spoke through US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli, who said nothing needs to change now with the Security Council’s involvement just days away. “We are comfortable with the approach we have taken.”

Fischer’s request borders on the comical, as there are no Iranians at the table for the European Union to negotiate with. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said from Brussels earlier this week, “Our contacts with the European Union will no longer be held with the EU-3, but with the different countries of the European Union.” Iran wants less, not more.

They may experience much less soon (in the form of sanctions) if the UN Security Council does the unexpected and resists its traditional urge to flounder, delay and prolong the process to the point that it’s eventual resolutions are nearly ineffectual. With Russia’s nuclear construction contracts and China’s recent massive oil and gas agreements with Tehran, effectiveness may have an outside chance at best, regardless of proven Iranian deception.

Marines Commission Intelligence Probe on Iran

The United States Marine Corps has hired Hicks & Associates for two intelligence assessments, one of which is to probe tensions among Iran’s ethnic minorities, principally in the only Sunni-majority Iranian province, Khuzestan, on the Iraq border. Its capital, Ahvaz, has seen significant violence, including deadly bombings in October of last year and again in January.

The purpose of the study, according to Marine Lt. Col. Rick Long, is “so that we and our troops would have a better understanding of and respect for the various aspects of culture in those countries.” Whether he should be taken at his word or his words taken with a wink is an interesting question.

Some say it could be preparation for the Marines to be more familiar with a potential ‘next environment’, a preparation sorely lacking before the Marines cut their swath through southern and central Iraq in the 2003 invasion. Yet, other “experts affiliated to the Pentagon” suggest that it is simply ”that diverse intelligence wings of the US military were seeking to justify their existence at a time of plentiful funding.”

To that end, it is worth noting that, no matter how plentiful funding may be at the Pentagon, it is rarely as proportionately plentiful to the Marine Corps. Further, if it were, it would be unlikely that Marine Intelligence would invest a nickel learning about an area simply to justify their existence. They’d justify their existence by looking where they just might potentially need to ‘get their game face on’ one day. Marine Intelligence is not in the business of amassing global dossiers for library completeness. It is in the business of supporting ground war-fighting operations in current and potential environments. It gathers information on these environments in descending order of combined threat-based and need-based priority.

Perhaps Marine commanders were satisfied with untold existing intelligence on Syria and/or the Horn of Africa or even Yemen, and Iran was the next need-based priority. Perhaps Iran was indeed elevated because of a threat level. But it is an almost iron-clad guarantee, more so than with any of the other sister services’ intelligence operations, that Marine Corps Intelligence did not simply attempt to ‘justify its existence’ learning about Iranian culture by pulling a rabbit out of it’s ‘well-funded’ hat.

This is not to suggest in any way that this study means an Iranian ground offensive is imminent or even in the works. It is simply noteworthy that an ever-frugal Marine Corps did not commission the analyses on Iraq and Syria or Iraq and the Horn of Africa. It commissioned them on Iraq and Iran.

February 22, 2006

Iraqi Mosque Reprisals: Teetering On the Brink

It was inevitable that Shi’ite Iraqis would strike back at Sunnis after the destruction of the 9th-century al-Askariya mosque, ‘The Golden Mosque’, in Samarra. Immediately, there was talk of civil war. But one of the key indicators of how difficult it is going to be to pull the sides back from the brink comes from a single paragraph in a Times Online story today.

The reprisal attack on al-Quds Sunni mosque in western Baghdad was typical. Residents ran for cover as more than a dozen masked Shia gunmen raked the building with bullets. The firing halted as suddenly as it had begun. The men stepped back into their six saloons and pulled away slowly, singing and waving jubilant V-signs from the windows. They were ushered from the scene by soldiers from an Iraqi National Guard checkpoint, who cheered and waved.

The Sunnis have long lamented the Shi’ite dominance of the Iraqi Security Forces, though more Sunnis had been joining since the last election. True, this imbalance was of their own making, as the majority of the Sunnis had chosen since early on to either align with the insurgency or refrained from joining the ISF out of fear of reprisals from those around them who supported the insurgency.

But the cause is a moot point at this juncture. If the Iraqi Security Forces are indeed widely conducting themselves in such a manner, they will be a prime factor in what will draw the country into all out civil war, with both Shi’ite and Sunni Iraqis handing victory over to the imported al-Qaeda animals who most surely brought down The Golden Mosque.

It is no surprise that the same ideological thugs who wailed against American forces for disrespecting Islam whenever an armored vehicle rumbled past a mosque or shot at an insurgent sniper taking nested shots from atop a minaret are now the ones who completely destroyed one of Shi’ite Islam’s most sacred mosques. To be sure, it was expected.

From a human perspective, intentionally targeting a house of worship for the effect its destruction would cause is deplorable. But from a strategic perspective, it is a master stroke by beasts who do not hold nearly as dear the ideals they publicly profess. They seek a civil war, with Sunnis killing Shi’ites…and the Kurds, well they can just stay home for this fight, thank you. And, to their credit, they probably would, with the exception of a quick and lopsided fight for Kirkuk. Why would they do otherwise? They, unlike the Iraq to the south, live in relative peace and prosperity in their largely autonomous north.

So, for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Khalid Mashaal, Hassan Nasrallah, and all those who claim to seek to establish a Muslim Caliphate, witness this day. For this day is but a tiny glimpse of the first day of your Caliphate, when alliances of convenience and necessity among Shi’ite and Sunni sects come to a violent end, and one turns to kill the other for ideological dominance of the new glorious Caliphate and the right to lay down the one ‘true’ Islam.

The bloodshed of their close yet distant ideologies will never cease, not even without an infidel among them. And for the few who wield the power of destruction and persuasion, their hatred and ceaseless mayhem will spell doom for the majority among them, either consumed by the flames of their seemingly endless anger, joining in it, or subjugated and condemned to broken lives by it.

May enough Iraqis see this, especially the largely Shi’ite Iraqi Security Forces, in order to pull back from the brink of their own destruction, Sunni and Shi’ite alike.

Arab League Will Not Fund Hamas' Palestinian Authority

While the United States and the EU are roundly criticized in the region for suggesting that they will cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority so long as it is led by Hamas, recognized by both as a terrorist organization, a news conference in Algiers with the Arab League’s secretary-general, Amr Moussa, reveals that the organization comprised of 20 Arab governments will not provide aid to the Hamas-led PA. Only three of the twenty governments have contributed to the call for funds, according to the group’s head. Which three nations were the contributors he did not make public. The Arab League consists of the governments of the following:

  • Jordan
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Bahrain
  • Tunisia
  • Algeria
  • Djibouti
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Somalia
  • Iraq
  • Oman
  • Palestine
  • Qatar
  • Islamic Republic Of Comoros
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Libya
  • Egypt
  • Morocco

The Arab League secretary-general also urged Hamas to recognize Israel and back the ‘2002 Arab peace formula’ which calls for a two-state solution. “The Arab initiative is the proper door for Hamas to recognize the peace process in general with all its tenets,” Amr Moussa said.

But coming to the rescue is non-Arab Iran, who has long believed in fighting Israel right down to the last Palestinian. While in Tehran soliciting desperately needed funds, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said that his Iranian hosts would have a “major role in Palestine”. “We trust Iran to help us deal with the challenges we are facing today,” Mashaal said.

Hamas faces two primary challenges in its eyes: Israel and money.

Iran will certainly be the primary regional contributor in its efforts to exert maximum influence in the day-to-day and strategic battles with Israel. Ahmadinejad’s statement that Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’ is a clear indication of how Iran intends to exert its newly enhanced influence. With regards to their approach to Israel, the ideology behind the Iranian Shi’ite Islamic state and the Palestinian Sunni Hamas are indistinguishable.

The Palestinian cause is championed by many in the region, including Arab heads of state, al-Qaeda, Iran and Islamic clerics nearly universally. But for many of them, it is a fair question to ask whether their concern is compassion for the Palestinian people or ire for the state of Israel. Is there any doubt that, should there ever be an achieved Islamic Caliphate, that the Shi’ite theocracy of Iran and the Sunni Hamas (and others) would be then turned against each other as competitors for the future of Islam?

Witness today’s bombing of the al-Askariya “Golden Mosque” in Samarra, Iraq, carried out by terrorists dressed in Iraqi police uniforms. Sunni terrorists in Iraq are trying to foment a civil war with Iraqi Shi’ites for the purposes of destabilizing the Iraqi government. Can there be any doubt that, with a Caliphate free of American or Israeli presence, there would be war between Sunni and Shi’ite for control of that Caliphate?

But, we are left with today’s alliance of convenience between the Shi’ite Iranian theocracy and the Sunni Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Yet, for all of the criticism thrown in the direction of the United States and the European Union regarding (not) funding a Hamas-led PA, the very Arab nations who so loudly and rhetorically have historically championed the Palestinian cause have yet to tangibly step up to the fiscal plate. Perhaps this is because the Arab states largely recognize a realistic two-state solution, as stated by Amr Moussa, rather than their historical stances for the destruction of Israel.

Whatever the root cause, the silence from the Arab League member states is deafening.

February 21, 2006

Iran Portrays Concluded Russian Talks as 'Constructive'

Talks between Russia and Iran ended Tuesday with nothing having changed from the end of talks Monday or, for that matter, from before the talks ever began.

Yet, nothing stopped Iran from posturing in an attempt to portray the Russian talks as productive and hopeful in an attempt to prolong the unproductive process. Said the head Iranian negotiator and deputy secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security, Ali Hosseinitash, “We discussed a joint formula and we will continue talks,” adding that the fruitless exchanges had been “positive and constructive.”

The Russians are far more realistic and increasingly frustrated at being strung along by their economic partner and again insisted that Iran cease their enrichment activities recently restarted.

Russia will no longer play host to the Iranian stage and any future talks between Iran and Russia on the Russian proposal will take place in Tehran. Russia’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Power chief, Sergei Kiriyenko, said, “Russia is making every effort to give [Iran] an opportunity to resolve the complicated situation by peaceful and constructive means. Talks on enriching uranium on Russian territory for Iran’s nuclear power [industry] will continue in Iran.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said from Brussels of the Russian demand that they cease enrichment activities, “Returning to the suspension of our nuclear activities is not on our agenda.” Mottaki also added that combined talks with Germany, France and the UK are a thing of the past. “Our contacts with the European Union will no longer be held with the EU-3, but with the different countries of the European Union.” From Iran’s perspective, any future talks with the EU-3 will take place on an individual country basis and merely as an addendum to the Russian talks, even though Russia is placing less value in the Russian-Iranian dialogue with each passing day.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said from Tokyo,
We have no option but to pray that the Iranian government will make a final decision with sincerity.”

But Iran has made their final decision. To not recognize that this decision was made long before the IAEA came into the picture and has been maintained throughout the entire process commonly referred to as international negotiations is to be willfully blind.

February 20, 2006

Iran Talks with Russia Stall Predictably

Today’s awaited talks between Russia and Iran for negotiating particulars in the Russian Proposal for enriching Iran’s uranium on Russian soil have ended and passed without resolution or agreement. The maneuver to first delay the talks and then re-enter into them with Russia served the purpose of buying Iran both time and also to relieve international pressure, both in the short term, ahead of the March 6 meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the threat its clandestine nature poses.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, called for Iran to reinstate the freeze on its enrichment activities and said that it was “premature to speak of [the] results” of today’s talks with Iran because there would be more talks in the future. It is not, however, premature to declare that Iran’s bid to buy one more minor installment of time has been successful. Lavrov added that Moscow’s expectations are ‘reserved’ for the talks, but simply wants to forestall military action or economic sanctions against an important Russian partner.

Mixed signals have come to characterize Iranian statements on their nuclear program and talks with the West and Russia. While Ali Larijani spoke positively of the Russian Proposal during a Moscow visit last month, today from Brussels after the Russian-Iranian talks broke, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki ensured that Iran seeks a peaceful solution to the nuclear standoff. He also added, “We have committed ourselves not to move for nuclear weapons based on our religious belief. Nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s defense doctrine.”

But that is contradicted by the recent fatwa issued by Mohsen Gharavian, who, like Ahmadinejad, is a disciple of the radical Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and dedicated to preparing the way for the return of the 12th Imam. In the fatwa, it was declared that the use of nuclear weapons is not against the principles of Islam and therefor a viable weapon to pursue and potentially use.

With the added context of the fact that Iran wants 20 nuclear power plants and has a bill before the Iranian mejlis to fund the research and construction of them, the true purpose of Iran’s ‘peaceful nuclear energy program’ becomes undeniably clearer. With all of the current difficulty presently swirling around Iran’s existing program, expanding it by an additional 20 reactors seems an illogical allocation of resources for a country supposedly seeking to pursue civilian power generation.

Consider that the U.S. has only 104 commercial nuclear reactors generating electricity, and a far greater power consumption rate per capita. Consider also that Iran, OPEC’s second greatest oil exporter with 5% of the world’s production, imports a significant amount of gasoline and other refined products because it lacks the refining capacity to meet its own needs. Consider also that the Busheur nuclear plant on Iran’s Persian Gulf coast carries a $800-900 million price tag alone.

And now, rather than invest in conventional power plants utilizing the abundance of hydrocarbons available for the cost of pumping them or increasing refining capabilities, Iran is determined to construct an additional 20 nuclear plants? This fails to address a serious strategic and economic Achilles heel for a country that portrays its nuclear program as simply a peaceful domestic energy program.

Can there be any question as to Iran’s true intentions?

The non-productive talks with Russia are a stall for time. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.

Israel Imposes Restrictions on Hamas-led PA

With the swearing in of the new Palestinian Parliament with a Hamas majority, Israel has decided to enact several measures against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in announcing the new restrictions that ”the PA is in practice becoming a terrorist authority. The State of Israel will not agree to this.” Most significant was the termination of the regular monthly transfers of tax collections to the Palestinian Authority, normally ranging between $50-60 million per month. Also included in the new restrictions:

  • Removal of VIP status for PA officials traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.
  • Increased checkpoint security restricting travel between the Palestinian Territories
  • Banning of transfers of arms into the PA security forces

Hamas dismissed the new Israeli restrictions and some members of the Quartet (EU, UN, US & Russia) have expressed opposition to the Israeli move to cut funds now, stating that the agreement was to leave transfers in place until the government is actually formed, with heads of ministries named and sworn in. Saturday, the newly elected officials were sworn into office as Ministers of Parliament, but an official government has not yet been formed.

The Quartet had not expressed opposition to an Israeli revenue transfer cutoff after such point. In short order, a government will definitely be formed and it will be dominated by Hamas. That much is certain. That Israel would be forced to otherwise fund them until such official time makes little sense other than semantics.

An unnamed diplomat said, “Israel broke with the Quartet position. Now I don’t know if there will be a unified Quartet position.” But that ‘unified Quartet position’ had already been undermined with the Russian invitation of Hamas to Moscow, a move supported by France.

On its way to Moscow for the Monday meetings, the Hamas delegation led by Khaled Mashaal stopped in Tehran soliciting Iranian support. Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad said, ”We will not reject any assistance from any country - Iran or any other. Our delegation was in Teheran today and will be in Moscow tomorrow. We will try to look for political and financial support.” Saudi Arabia has already pledged to pay three-quarters of the tuition for Palestinian students through a $15 million grant. The kind of education that Hamas wants to ensure for its children is in line with the kind of Wahabi education Saudi Arabia has traditionally supported externally, such as through the grants to Pakistani madrassas.

Meanwhile, in both the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian terrorist operations and Israeli counterterrorism operations continue unabated. In Gaza, two members of the Popular Resistance Committee were killed by an Israeli attack helicopter missile strike as they attempted to plant a bomb near the southern Gaza security fence. The strike drew outrage from Palestinians, but the Palestinian Police confirmed that a bomb had been found near where the missile strike took place. From northern Gaza, another Kassam rocket was fired into Israel, but it errantly landed harmlessly on the desert floor.

In Nablus, in what is called a ‘widespread operation’, IDF forces rolled into Nablus and entered a number of refugee camps, including the Balatah refugee camp. The latest reports indicate that two Palestinians were killed, including a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and 12 arrested. Fierce gun battles have erupted, including bombs detonated near Israeli troops, Molotov cocktails and stone throwing. The Nablus operation, called “Zohar Tsfoni” (“Northern Splendor”), is expected to continue for several days. On Friday, IDF Forces arrested 10 Islamic Jihad terrorists in operations near Jenin.

There may be a new government taking shape in the Palestinian Territories, but while the political and economic developments have taken center stage, on the ground, it continues to be ‘business as usual’ for both sides.

February 18, 2006

No Surprises In Britain

The results of a recent ICM poll indicating that 20% of British Muslims sympathize with “the feelings and motives” of the al-Qaeda suicide bombers who carried out the 7/7 bombings as well as that 40% believe that sha’riah should be introduced in predominantly Muslim areas of Britain are rightfully disturbing, but they must also be understood within the context in which the most extreme elements of Islam have emerged in the United Kingdom.

As ICT researcher and intelligent analyst Colonel Jonathan Fighel noted in October 2001:

It is not by chance that this fatwa was first published in England, where its publication was protected by democratic rights and freedom of speech. This is only one more example of the cynical exploitation of the freedoms of Western civilization by radical Islamists for the advancement of their extremist goals, including the abolition of those very freedoms. In order to launch their Jihad against the “Infidels” of the West, the Islamists have established a kind of forward base among their enemies, operating under the protective umbrella of democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech and religion. The U.K. has thus become a safe haven for the launching of Jihad against the rest of the Western world.

… In London, Islamic opposition groups from around the world operate unimpeded, calling for the downfall of various “heretical” Muslim regimes. These groups include member of the Egyptian opposition, including some of the leaders of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, the group that in November 1997 perpetrated a murderous attack against tourists in Luxor, killing 62 people, among them British tourists. One of those most conspicuously involved in the attack was Yasser Taufik Al Sari, who lives in West London. He depicts himself as director of a charitable organization promoting human rights in Muslim countries.

… Security experts have contended for many years that the U.K. is a safe haven for radical Islamic terror networks, which exploit British freedoms to further their goals. Among the factors contributing to the ease with which these groups operate is the U.K.’s liberal immigration policy, the many flaws in the border control system, and freedom from the obligation to carry identity cards. Britain is meticulous in upholding the individual’s rights, including the right of radical individuals to orchestrate the eradication of the rights of their opponents. Such individuals are protected from prosecution in their countries of origin by British legislation that inhibits the extradition of suspects. At the same time, prosecution in the U.K., with its the large and influential Moslem community, is fraught with risks of internal strife, or accusation of racism.

Nor are the British security services properly equipped to expose and thwart Islamist terrorist activity. As a rule, there is a complete lack of understanding of the ideology and thought processes of the Islamist groups, and their means for translating their beliefs into actions. Intelligence gathering is difficult where such groups are concerned, as they tend to operate in small cells whose members are well-known to one another. In Britain, the penetration of such cells is made all the more difficult by the lack of agents with the appropriate backgrounds and language skills.

… However, whether it was taken seriously or not, all the information was available. The alarm bells should have been ringing for some in the corridors of power in Whitehall. It has never been much of a secret that an extensive radical Islamic infrastructure was operative on a large scale in the U.K.; Islamic charity funds, bank accounts, Islamic web sites, and newspapers in Arabic all serve as legitimate and legal platforms for illegal activities and incitement. No real legal or administrative steps were taken to counter the threat.

The British intelligence services, like the government, have for some time been in a state of virtual stagnation with regard to the Islamist threat. No pro-active measures have been taken to confront this reality. The Islamist phenomenon was made light of , reflecting a desire for domestic tranquility. There has been no real effort to develop and enhance intelligence coverage and analysis capability; nor was the recruitment of Arabic speakers made a top priority; nor were there attempts to alter banking regulations to counter money-laundering and fund-raising for terrorist organizations in Britain.

As Fighel notes, this state of affairs has been no great secret to the UK authorities since at least the mid-1990s when French counterterrorism authorities first coined the term “Londonistan” to refer to the British Islamist networks. Since then, the evidence has only continued to mount but even after the events of 7/7 the political will to move against the threat of al-Qaeda and its allies’ infrastructure in the UK (as opposed to major figures with it, notably Sheikh Abu Qatada and now Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri) has been conspicuously lacking on the part of the British government. In the absence of regulation, piracy tends to thrive, and this truism can be represented in the development of the British Islamic community.

Since the British authorities have more or less refused to substantively act against known extremist movements, some of them openly supportive of Osama bin Laden, it is unrealistic at best for more moderate or traditionalist British Muslims to achieve anything more than maintaining doctrinal distinctions between their followers and those of al-Qaeda. It should be understood by all that the tactics favored by Sheikh Abu Hamza in dealing with his opponents, which almost certainly did not occur in a vacuum, they operated within an environment of quasi-tacit approval from the British authorities through their unwillingness to openly confront his brownshirts. Within such a medium, it should not be at all surprising that views similar to those of Sheikh Abu Hamza are vastly becoming not only the loudest but also an increasingly powerful minority among British Muslims.

February 17, 2006

Iran Blinks: Ready to 'Consider' Ratifying NPT and Additional Protocol

Amidst firm and resolute pressure from the West, most notably from France and the United States, Iran today blinked in the international stare-down over the Iranian nuclear weapons program. In a statement made by the Iranian embassy in Paris, it was said that the Iranian mejlis (parliament) is finally ready to take up official ratification approval of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Additional Protocol, long demanded by the West and refused by Iran.

The impetus for the Iranian moves today may lie in the Russians’ firm stance that Iran stop all enrichment activity before they will even entertain resuming negotiations regarding the Russian Proposal, which is seen as the only way for Iran to avoid action of some sort by the UN Security Council. This may be Iran’s response to that pressure.

What is most curious about today’s events is that the word of this new position comes from Iran’s French embassy in Paris and not the mejlis representatives responsible for introducing such measures into the Iranian parliament. The significance of making this statement from Iran’s embassy in France, rather than any other embassy or from the UN mission, should also be noted. This is a direct response to the surprising and unwavering determined stance taken by France , which surely has shocked Iran as much as any other nation.

On Iranian state-run television, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, said, “Today, we are a nuclear country and we are ready to negotiate with other countries to remove their concerns. If a proper solution is suggested, we are ready to negotiate. They have to stop threatening us with sanctions and other threats.”

The last sentence is key. It is the prime indicator of what should be clearly seen as “The Blink”. The question is why. Why would Iran make such a move? Is it possible that they are not as confident in their program and/or regime survivability as their rhetoric to-date suggests?

Regardless of the underlying potential motivations for this latest surprise maneuver, Iran’s statement about ratifying the NPT and Additional Protocol should be seen first within the context of two clear trends.

First, it demonstrates Iran’s clear pattern of bellicose recalcitrance until the West largely stands firm and turns away from the table. It is at this point in every instance that Iran would make a gesture of some sort in an attempt to renew discussion and restart the time-consuming process of talks and schedules. This pattern can is clearly visible even when examining the timeline of events surrounding Iran’s approach to the Russian Proposal.

Second, in its statements today, Iran indicated that it would consider using American and UK centrifuges for enrichment, supposedly allowing them to only produce enriched uranium and not being capable of enriching uranium to the point of weapons-grade. This means that, even though the Russian demands may be driving the move, Iran is still, under the guise of a conciliatory counter-offer, insisting on enriching uranium on Iranian soil.

Today’s events will likely be viewed as extremely positive by many. However, it must be considered that Iran is beyond the point of trustworthiness and that the IAEA (around whom the NPT and Additional Protocol measures revolve, snap inspections or none) is beyond the point of effectiveness.

It is Iran’s way of salvaging more ‘talks about talks’, buying more precious time and still furthering the notion that enrichment on Iranian soil is the only solution. Iran has never once wavered on the issue of their ‘right’ to enrich uranium. They should not be expected to and they indicated no change from that today.

Today is the day that Iran blinked. It should also be the day that the West (and Russia) continued to stare with the effective determination that brought this about.

European Firms Supplying Iranian Nuclear Program

“The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” – Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

The governor of the Turkish region of Agri announced earlier this week that Turkish border security had stopped and seized two trucks carrying over 7,100 pounds of Italian-made aluminium alloy to Iran this past December. Aluminium alloy is used to manufacture parts, such as centrifuges, for nuclear weapons and enriched uranium production. The Milan company loaded the aluminium alloy onto trucks with Iranian drivers from an Iranian company based in Istanbul, Turkey.

Four months earlier, in August 2005, the Bulgarians intercepted a shipment of zirconium silicate from Britain bound for Iran. Zirconium silicate is a sand with traces of radioactive zirconium, which can be refined and the zirconium purified/extracted for use as cladding inside nuclear equipment in order to minimize internal fuel rod erosion during operation or for the warhead itself. Astonishingly,the shipment was permitted to proceed.

In April 2005, Germany allowed the shipment of a massive world-class crane to Iran intended to assist them in their missile program, currently developing the Shahab-4, capable of hitting targets in Europe, including all of Germany. By the time German customs officers realized that the equipment was put on a ship for an Iranian company forbidden to receive such goods in Germany, the ship was already in international waters. In fact, it was already docked for a stop at Port Said in the Suez Canal.

Also in April 2005, and also in Germany, three German executives were arrested when the government charged they had sold Iran missile launching technology.

Yet, while either some European countries’ firms were sacrificing security in the name of money or their governments were asleep at the security wheel, one country as of late has stood surprisingly apart and unexpectedly firm with regards to the Iranian nuclear threat.

France has yesterday openly accused Iran of developing a secret military nuclear program, as Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said point blank, “No civilian nuclear program can explain the Iranian nuclear program. It is a clandestine Iranian military nuclear program.”

In reaction to the French Foreign Minister’s direct words, Iran’s head nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said on Iranian state television, “I suggest that Mr. Douste-Blazy use a diplomatic tone and avoid increasing the tension.” This coming from a nation whose president recently said that Israel should and could be ‘wiped off the map’. Perhaps that is the diplomatic tone Mr. Larijani is seeking.

Inside Iran, a disciple of Ahmadinejad’s radical religious mentor has issued a new fatwa stating that Islamic law does not forbid nuclear weapons, contrary to Iran’s long held public religious assertion. As Iran gets closer to actually possessing an arsenal they can field, the religious justification will naturally become stronger. The previous position opposing the use of nuclear weapons seemingly applies only when Iran has none.

Meanwhile, Europe remains plagued by companies willing to sell Iranians the rope they seek and by governments unconcerned or too distracted to halt it.

Calling that familiar Lenin quote to mind, it seems that, at least with regard to the Iranian nuclear program and after their own ‘French Intifada’ this past October, France is officially out of the rope business.

February 15, 2006

Iran's 'Slower, Please' Russian Talks Renewal

In the midst of world doubt over the Iranian nuclear program, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad visited the Natanz nuclear facility south of Tehran, the principal center of Iran’s newly restarted uranium enrichment efforts. While praising the scientists for their nuclear fuel work, Ahmadinejad hinted at their true aim.

“Though your main concern is to produce nuclear fuel, your attempts to this end will result in more precious outcomes.”

These ‘more precious outcomes’ should not be misunderstood to be radiological isotopes for medical usage. The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency paraphrased Ahmadinejad, saying that in his speech he ’noted that what the enemies are afraid of is not production of nuclear bomb, given that in the world of today, nuclear weapons are of no use.’ This assertion of uselessness, however, flies in the face of adamant Iranian objection to the Israeli nuclear arsenal neither confirmed nor denied by Tel Aviv.

This as Iran once again makes a reversal on rhetoric, claiming they are indeed now ready to negotiate with Russia on the Russian Proposal, which seeks to lure Iranian enrichment operations onto Russian soil and oversight.

Iranian spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said of Tehran’s earlier decision to disengage from the Russian talks, Russia’s proposal should be based on policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” adding that chief among those policies include a “determination to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes inside Iranian territory.”

Adding fuel to the Iranian fire of determination, Ahmadinejad himself had said earlier this week, ”You [Russia] are telling us not to produce our nuclear fuel and that you are going to produce it somewhere else instead and then give it back to us. Wow. Do you think we believe you?”

It is clear, with revealing language like this, that the Russian proposal will either fail on its own merits or Iran will agree, easing pressure on itself, only to fail to honor the agreement when it comes time for implementation. The Russian proposal is a non-starter.

As for Russia’s stance, it was positive that they appeared to stand firm, remaining steadfast in their demand that Iran first cease all enrichment operations recently restarted before anything substantive moves forward. That being said, the meeting is still scheduled between the two for next Monday, February 20, 2006.

At the same time, while such demands understandably play well in the West, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reminded that, when push comes to shove, Russia is still opposed to sanctions against Iran regardless, UN Security Council reference or none.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of President Bush’s supplemental request for an additional $75 million to support democratic movements within Iran. This is in addition to the $10 million already accounted for in the existing budget. Of the $75 million, about $50 million will be used for feeding Farsi broadcasts and telecasts into Iran in support of opposition to the regime. She also reiterated that The international community is going to have to act and act decisively if Iran is to know that there’s a consequence for their open defiance of the international community.”

Iran is not without absolute friends, as they and Venezuela announced the creation of a $200 Million Fund, funded equally by both for joint ‘agricultural and industrial projects. “We have taken a fundamental step toward the consolidation of the relationship between Iran and Venezuela,” said Venezuela’s Foreign Trade Minister, Gustavo Marquez.

As to which industry Iran and Venezuela may use the funds for, Iranian mejlis speaker, Gholamali Haddadadel, said that Iran would not rule out helping Venezuela with their nuclear program.

The clock continues to tick on the Iranian nuclear program, a program in which the aim is not simply to arm Iran, but, secondarily, to also proliferate weapons technology throughout the Middle East and the world to any tyrannical regime willing to confront the United States. Hugo Chavez clearly qualifies.

February 14, 2006

Kenya Bust Highlights al-Qaeda Threat

The recent police action by Kenyan authorities that disrupted a planned attack on the African Cup of Nations soccer final in Cairo underscore the continued threat posed by al-Qaeda elements in Somalia.

According to African News Dimension: (subscription only)
International anti-terrorist experts believe the network has cells and training camps in neighbouring Somalia.
The July 2005 International Crisis Group report on the situation in Somalia, while in significant disagreement with earlier assessments on the level of al-Qaeda activity in the country by both a March 2005 UN report and the information on al-Qaeda activity in Somalia contained in both the 2002 and 2005 editions of former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer’s Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, nevertheless documented the existence of 3 parallel jihadi networks in Somalia that were later discussed at length by Dr. Anouar Boukhars in the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

According to both ICG and Dr. Boukhars, these 3 jihadi networks are as follows:

  • The East African al-Qaeda network in Somalia established by Tariq Abdullah (Abu Talha al-Sudani) that includes a number of senior al-Qaeda terrorist including operations chief Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who is believed to be the current head of al-Qaeda in East Africa, as well as Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, all of whom are believed have been involved in both the August 1998 bombing of the US embassies in East Africa and the November 2002 suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa that coincided with a failed plot to shoot down an El Al airliner. Other senior al-Qaeda members believed by Kenyan authorities to be based in Somalia include Issa Osman Issa, Fumo Mohamed Fumo, Salim Samir Baamir, and Mohamed Mwakuuza Kuza. In keeping with the al-Qaeda model, these individuals do not so much maintain their own organization in Somalia so much as coopt existing Somali groups for their purposes and act as the primary link between them and the broader al-Qaeda network.
  • The remnants of al-Itihaad al-Islaami, formerly the largest and most influential of the Somali jihadi organizations until 1997, when it came under conventional attack by a series of incursions into Somalia by the Ethiopian military that the group still has yet to recover from. As a result, some of al-Itihaad’s former leaders including political leader Sheikh Ali Warsame, recruiting chief Sheikh Abdulqadir Ga’amey, and spiritual leaders Sheikh Dahir and Sheikh Mohamud Isse have returned to their power bases in Garoowe, Bosaaso, and Bur’o in an effort to recruit new members, with al-Itihaad’s former military commanders Hassan Dahir Aweys and Hassan Turki taking charge over the remnants of the group’s fighters.
  • A new and as yet unnamed jihadi organization made up largely of al-Itihaad veterans led by either Aweys’s former protege Aden Hashi Ayro or Ahmed Abdi Godane, both of whom attended al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. This new organization is extremely secretive, operating in clandestine cells rather than as a militia, and appears at launching assassination campaigns and urban warfare tactics.

It would seem that of the three, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed’s would be the most likely to have masterminded this most recent plot directed at Cairo. The mention of South Africa in disrupting this attack also brings to mind Kurt Shillinger’s recent article in Armed Forces Journal concerning the al-Qaeda infrastructure present in the country and the steps that have been taken to combat it.

February 13, 2006

Londonistan Lives

Thanks to the good auspices of the Sunday Times, we now know that the leading imam of the al-Madina Mosque in Beeston where the 7/7 bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, and Hasib Mir Hussain had grown up is now praising their actions. Additionally, the Times reports that Khan, considered the leader of the 7/7 cell, “had attended sermons in Yorkshire by [imprisoned Muslim cleric] al-Faisal and tapes of al-Faisal’s teachings were still circulating within his mosque.” These disclosures will create yet more embarassment for the British government, which has gone to great and some would say rather implausible lengths to separate the 7/7 attacks from either al-Qaeda or existing Islamist networks in the United Kingdom, but it is not entirely unsurprising.

As Dr. Rohan Gunaratna noted tongue-in-cheek in Inside Al Qaeda:

As Colonel Gaddafi told the Americans in the wake of 9/11, “If you want to combat terrorism, bomb London and Riyadh.” For once Gaddafi was right; London was the unwitting host to several Islamist groups and Saudi Arabia was tacitly providing the finance.

It has now been 4 years since Dr. Gunaratna wrote those words and while London has indeed been bombed, little has been done to fundamentally dismantle the Islamist infrastructure in the United Kingdom. While the UK has successfully prosecuted senior al-Qaeda leaders, notably Abu Qatada, the network’s highest-ranking representative in Europe, and more recently Abu Hamza al-Masri, the more fundamental issue of shutting down the terrorist infrastructure remains unaddressed by the Blair government. According to The Scotsman, by the UK government’s own records there are still more than 100 terror suspects yet to be prosecuted. The British government will of course claim that these individuals are under surveillance and their activities constrained, but this claim is put to lie by the fact that 7/7 ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan was himself was determined not to be a threat by MI5, a designation that did nothing to prevent him from carrying out the attacks.

The continuing threat from UK-based al-Qaeda and allied groups can be demonstrated clearly by the recent designation by the US Treasury Department freezing the assets of the leadership and several front organizations associated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya), most of which appear to be headquartered in either Birmingham or Manchester.

Iran Enrichment Underway, Russian Proposal Snubbed

On the day when reports emerge that Iran has begun feeding uranium gas into centrifuges for enrichment, news surfaces that Iran has also concurrently delayed talks on the Russian Proposal.

The moves coincide logically and serve as proof to the assertion that any suggestion by Iran in the past that they were interested in discussing the Russian Proposal (with or without Chinese participation) were disingenuous stalls for time. Iranian claims of interest in the proposal, as with other claims of interest in talks and negotiation, were nothing more than an attempts at delay and buying time, usually when it appeared the West was throwing its hands in the air intimating that it had done all it could do to resolve the situation through negotiation. Each time, Iran would suddenly make frustratingly well-received gestures that they were once again interested in a ‘peaceful resolution’.

Iran is effectively demonstrating today what it has insisted all along: That it will only accept enrichment on its own soil under its own control and that enrichment is seen as its right.

The Iranians began pumping UF6 uranium gas into the centrifuges of the Natanz facility, Iran’s primary (known) enrichment site, as confirmed by IAEA observers. How long those observers will be allowed to remain in place before being expelled is the next question, and the next ‘red line’ for Iran to cross.

The Iranian indigenous nuclear fuel cycle begins at uranium mines in Yazd and Gachin, where the ore is also milled and converted to yellowcake. The yellowcake then needs to be converted from its yellow solid state into a more concentrated white solid form called UH6, or uranium hexafluoride. This is the primary purpose of the Isfahan nuclear facility. The UH6 is then taken to the enrichment facility (Natanz), where it is superheated and transformed into a gas state and fed into the centrifuges and further concentrated (enriched). Further enrichment (and separation) would eventually take place to create highly enriched uranium (weapons grade), and eventually this could include using Iran’s Arak heavy water plant. The plant is still under construction and Iran tried to keep it secret. The heavy water plant will be capable of not only producing highly enriched uranium, but also plutonium, from the otherwise ‘spent fuel’ byproduct of the enrichment process. This is the most important aspect of the Russian Proposal, which reports often under-emphasize, preferring to focus on the original UH6 enrichment rather than the return of the spent fuel.

With Iran’s moves today, they have effectively ‘put up’. It is now time for the West to effectively ‘shut up’ and accept that there will be no negotiated solution and that the only way to stop the Iranian regime from developing nuclear weapons is by stopping the Iranian regime.

Whether the best course of action is strangling the regime through sanctions or blockades, funding and supporting internal revolt, direct military action or a combination thereof, a new course must be chosen decisively and then unquestioningly and fervently supported until its aim is reached.


Assad Shuffles Syrian Government Amid Pressures

Syria shuffled their government this weekend, naming a new vice president and foreign minister and filling the interior minister position that had been left vacant since the death of Maj. Gen. Ghazi Kanaan. Many still question the circumstances of Kanaan’s death, officially called a suicide by Syrian authorities.

Bashar Assad pulled hard-line Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara from his post, naming him to be his vice president. Appointed to replace him as foreign minister is Walid al-Moualem. As Syria awaits a confrontation at the UN with the United States, among others, it is no accident that the man who had been Syria’s Ambassador to the United States for ten years takes the reins. Bassam Abdel Majeed was tapped to become Syria’s interior minister, coming from a post as a ‘senior security officer’, which can have a multitude of meanings in Syria.

Former vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, predicted that Assad’s regime in Syria will fall in 2006, saying, “currently, there is no way to correct the regime from inside the nation. Bashar is acting like someone who has a farm and wants to manage it on his own. He would not listen to any idea other than those praising him.”

Having recently allied with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood to unseat Assad, his prediction may be considered, at least in part, a marketing campaign with the intent of shopping the idea. If the United States feels a renewed sense of urgency and imminence regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions and development, Assad may benefit from a reprieve borne of necessity. Khaddam may receive far less tangible support from the United States than he might have otherwise sensed he had garnered.

Coming up on the anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Syria is feeling renewed pressure from Lebanon, as The March 14 Group in Lebanon is calling for the Lebanese government to file an official complaint against Syria and Lebanon’s pro-Syrian President Emil Lahoud. The group outright accused Lahoud of complicity in the rash of assassinations in Lebanon of various figures in the past year.

Add to that the return of Saad Hariri from self-imposed exile, returning to mark the anniversary of his father’s assassination by attempting to revive the Cedar Revolution. He had fled Lebanon fearing that he was on the short list of those due to be assassinated. Calling for the Lebanese people to flood Beruit’s Martyrs’ Square on Tuesday, Hariri said of Syria, “They thought that their intelligence and security apparatuses can re-emerge strongly, but we will tell them at Martyrs’ Square that we will not allow their return.”

Tuesday will be an interesting day in Beirut, one which Syria will be watching closely, gauging just how much passion remains among the Lebanese people and how much has subsided.

February 12, 2006

Pentagon 'Leaks' Iran War Plans

London’s Telegraph reports that the Pentagon is drawing up plans to coordinate for the contingency of a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities should diplomatic efforts fail as expected. The portions of the plan revealed call for B-2 Stealth bombers armed with bunker-busters and sea-launched cruise missile barrages, potentially including redesigned ballistic missiles with conventional explosives, hitting unspecified Iranian nuclear facilities.

Any such plan is not news. That the Pentagon has decided to put someone forward ‘leaking’ it, however, is news.

In a bit of classic information warfare, the administration is sending a message to Iran. Not that such plans are ‘in the works’. Iran is headed by fanatics, not dolts. But likely, in the event Iran may draw a measure of comfort that the President may be gun-shy after nearly three years of conflict in Iraq, to let the Iranians know that the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces does not shirk from informing the public of such plans. There are any number of potential intended recipients and/or intended messages, including the American public itself. This is but one that seems plausible.

The legs of the attack plans story is an information warfare countermove of rhetoric to the latest from Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who threatened that Iran would ‘revise its [nuclear] policies’.

Ahmadinejad offered a thinly veiled threat in his speech at Tehran’s Azadi Square celebrating the 27th anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. He said, “The nuclear policy of the Islamic Republic so far has been peaceful.”

While considering that this is a translation from Farsi, the words ‘so far’ were surely not misunderstood in the process. Their implications and the suggestion implied by them should not be lost in their clear meaning, regardless of original language.

The threat is clear: Iran’s nuclear program may not stay peaceful.

Of course, it is almost universally acknowledged that it never has been ‘peaceful’.

Some may argue that Ahmadinejad is only threatening to cancel their Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty agreement and not necessarily that he would turn to developing weapons, as Ahmadinejad continued by saying, “Until now, we have worked inside the agency (IAEA) and the NPT regulations. If we see you want to violate the right of the Iranian people by using those regulations (against us), you should know that the Iranian people will revise its policies.”

But what substantive purpose does the NPT paper serve? Iran has been a signatory to the NPT since 1968 without interruption. Yet, they have admitted in the face of evidence that they have done extensive business with the world’s most pervasive nuclear proliferators, the AQ Khan network. What value is there in any Nonproliferation Treaty if a signatory is engaged in clandestine proliferation without consequence? The NPT means nothing to the current Iranian regime.

It does serve them, however. They have learned well from Saddam Hussein that it is far less painful to play shell games of inconvenience with international inspectors than to deal with the consequences of their absence. Should Iran ever cancel the NPT it would be a sign that they no longer fear the potential consequences of international isolation and force, or that they are inviting such actions.

The latter is the more likely of the two. And infinitely more worrisome.

February 9, 2006

Rice Calls Out Iran, Syria for Inciting Cartoon Riots

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called out Iran and Syria for their part in inciting and fostering ongoing riots in their own countries and elsewhere throughout the region. In accusing the two countries of implication, Ms. Rice said, “I don’t have any doubt that given the control of the Syrian government in Syria, given the control of the Iranian government – which, by the way, hasn’t even hidden its hand in this – that Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiment and to use this to their own purposes, and the world ought to call them on it.”

To this end, while many have spent much time reading news on the ongoing situation, most may have missed the most salient observation yet, offered up by an unnamed EU diplomat regarding the riots in Syria and the torching of Denmark’s embassy there and noted in a Reuters report.

“Anyone who knows Syria knows that people don’t just go downtown and demonstrate without some official nod or wink.”

‘Demonstrate’ is a polite way of describing a mob torching the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria’s capital city of Damascus, but it makes his point even more effective and one that should be duly noted by those not intimately familiar with the governmental machinations of Bashar Assad’s dictatorship in Syria.

The Secretary of State’s words on Syria echo those of Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt, who also accused Syrian president Bashar Assad of inciting riots against Danish offices in Lebanon and Syria. He said that, in Lebanon, many of the protesters trying to set fire to the Danish embassy in Beirut were arrested and some found to be Syrian soldiers in civilian clothes. “Those involved, including some arrested, were found to be people working for Syria, including Syrian soldiers disguised as civilians,”

If Syrian soldiers are confirmed to be among the arrested rioters, this will not bode well for Syria and Assad, with the Hariri Probe still looming over their heads.

Damascus Riot Scene

In Iran, both the Croatian ambassador and a Romanian envoy were summoned by the government in Tehran in order to reprimand them for the publication of the cartoons in publications within their respective countries.

The Belmont Club notes a blog called Freedom for Egyptians, which has photographs of the October 17, 2005 edition of the Egyptian newspaper, al-Fager. In that edition were published the very pictures originally published in August 2005 in Denmark. The Egyptian blogger rightly wonders where the Egyptian riots are. She also notes that, while Denmark has apologized, the Egyptian publisher has refused to apologize, stating that he is proud that his newspaper ran the cartoons.

al-Fajr Page 17

If the offenses were truly this egregious, would the riots not have occured months ago at their initial publication? Would there not have been riots immediately in the Muslim nation of Egypt after the Ramadan re-publication of the cartoons there? The level of the current outrage appears to be largely manufactured, with more than a small assist from Syria and Iran. And no less than 10 have died in Afghanistan as a result. Perhaps the sermons that accompany Friday prayers will pave the way to an end to this. Or add fuel to the fire.

February 8, 2006

Israeli West Bank Withdrawal Plan Draws Laughter

In saying that Israel intends to draw a permanent border sooner rather than later, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert aims to maintain control over three large Israeli settlements in the West Bank, with a combined population of about 70,000, and also maintain a military presence in spots along the Jordan River. Disengagement from the Palestinians would follow, in an effective turnover of the West Bank in similar fashion to the recent handover of Gaza to PA control. The maintained presence in the Jordan River Valley will be a contentious, and perhaps unwise move.

This, though long considered and not hastily prepared by any means, is likely in response to recent remarks by Hamas leaders who, when pressed to recognize Israel, rhetorically asked precisely where Israel’s borders were. Olmert did not detail or map those precise borders, but iterated that they would not be where they stand now, presumably to incorporate nearby settlements.

Hamas, through Sheikh Yasser Mansour in Nablus, number 5 on the Hamas national candidates list, laughed off Olmert’s response as far too much to ask. “If he wants to find a solution, he must accept less than what he wants,” he told The Jerusalem Post via phone. If Hamas’ founding charter is to be used as any sort of ‘road map’, much less as the charter would require Palestine be ‘from the river to the sea’.

As one works up the Hamas pecking order, there is no ambiguity in determining that the Hamas founding charter is still the guiding principle, as shown in the swift reaction from Hamas leaders currently in talks in Cairo.

Khaled Mashaal’s deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk, made that perfectly clear. “When historic Palestine is reinstated, they can come and live among us. They will have a Palestinian nationality,” And then the Jews will surely and finally live in peace, just as they do in Iran and Saudi Arabia, living comfortably among them with an Iranian or Saudi Arabian nationality.

This all transpires as Israel has stepped up operations without reservations or political considerations after coordinated Qassam rocket attacks over the weekend. The air strikes have been concentrated primarily in Gaza and focused on al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terrorists known to be specifically involved in the manufacture of the homemade ballistics, rather than the foot soldiers who fire them. IDF artillery has hammered the launch sites regularly in what can be considered suppressing fire. The artillery barrages cause few injuries, but their mission is not to hit human targets, but rather to discourage human movement into the ‘no go zones’ Israel has established to force would-be rocket attackers to be constrained beyond the effective range of their weapons of choice. When Israel relaxes this enforcement, rocket attacks like the ones witness this past Friday result without fail or delay.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that Israel’s targeted killings worry him. The UN’s chief spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, reinforced Annan’s assertions, stating, “While recognizing Israel’s right to defend its citizens, targeted killings place innocent bystanders at grave risk and amount to executions without trial.”

Is there a more humane method of executing open warfare in defense of a nation’s very civilians routinely executed without trial by being stabbed aboard a bus or attacked with rockets while simply in their homes with their families? Israel possesses the power to reduce every inch of the West Bank and Gaza to rubble and pass by it once more and reduce it further to dust. Yet they do not. They use artillery barrages on empty open fields and precision guided munitions and strike cars containing known terrorists.

In light of this, it is perplexing that Israel chooses to continue to talk to Fatah at all, as most of the terrorists executing recent attacks - and therefor also on the receiving end of Israel’s military response - have been Fatah’s own al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Coupled with attacks from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, it is becoming evident that Hamas is sitting back in an effort to be seen as reasonable and non-aggressive, all the while supporting at a minimum and potentially coordinating and/or directing, to some degree, the timing of attacks from other ‘non-affiliated’ groups. They all have their differences and (sometimes violent) grievances internally, and there will surely be fighting between them. But the most violent among them all will not hesitate to cooperate against a unifying force like Israel.

Inevitably, the international community will acquiesce to the conveniently peaceful appearance of non-aggressors, such as the outwardly idle Hamas. An outwardly-idle Hamas, biding their time to act while the world awaits an illusory internal reform movement, playing on our combined hope that they truly seek peace. There will soon be the calls for Israel and the rest of the world to accept Hamas at the negotiating table. The same Hamas that asserts, “When historic Palestine is reinstated, they can come and live among us. They will have a Palestinian nationality.”

February 6, 2006

Iran Orders IAEA Cameras Out

In a move that parallels North Korea before they announced they had nuclear weapons, Iran has told the IAEA to remove its cameras, monitoring equipment and seals from Iranian nuclear facilities. Ali Larijani, the secretary of the High Council of National Security of Iran and former presidential candidate (2005), gave the IAEA until the end of next week to have the equipment removed.

Speaking from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of Iran’s referral to the Security Council, “It’s not the end of the road. I hope that in between, Iran will take steps that will help create an environment and confidence-building measures that will bring the partners back to the negotiating table.” That is a false hope, as Iran has demonstrated no efforts towards this end except to prolong the process. The removal of the cameras, even if signed into law in Iran, indicates just that.

While there is just a small chance to avoid conflict with Iran, the mullahs have made every attempt to provide false magnification of those chances, as the belligerent state has made suggestions that it was suddenly now prepared to talk about the Russian Proposal, a plan to have Iran’s uranium enriched on Russian soil with the spent fuel returned to Russia to prevent further enrichment and/or plutonium production.

However, in a statement seen by many as surprisingly supportive, the Russians said that they would discuss their proposal on enrichment with Iran only if Iran once again halted enrichment operations. The Russian Proposal to Iran is essentially being proposed in partnership with the United States on a global scale as a means to provide nuclear fuel for reactors worldwide. But the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership plan this refers to is criticized as being far short of a non-proliferation mechanism. “They’re trying to sell this as a nonproliferation initiative, but we shouldn’t be so quick to cede that point,” according to Henry Sokolski, the executive director of the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center. Daryl Kimball, executive director the Arms Control Association in Washington said, “They’re using this as a way to sell reprocessing technology rather than as a way to solve the problem of fuel supply, and that’s troubling.”

If this is the case and the program is not secure enough for non-aggressive nations of the world, how can the Russian incarnation of this plan be a safeguard against the most acute nuclear crisis on the planet, Iran?

Regardless, the Iranian statement that they seek to negotiate is a ruse - another thinly veiled attempt to stall for more precious time. The Russian Proposal is not a secure solution nor a mechanism that will prevent Iran’s internal development outside of the Russian controls. At the same time, it is enough of a hindrance as to be counter-productive in Iran’s eyes and will be avoided at all costs, once negotiations can be dragged out for the maximum useful period of time.

It is most likely impossible to stop the Iranian regime from producing nuclear weapons considering the international community’s lack of an appetite to confront Iran. The writing is on the wall. The United States and the West squandered decades while indigenous Iranian dissident groups went virtually unaided, left alone and with scarce resources in the face of a brutally oppressive regime. Now, finally, there is talk of funding these groups to derail the mullahs internally. But it is almost certainly too little too late, at least insofar as derailing the race for nuclear weapons is concerned. That leaves external force. This is an option that no nation appears prepared to accept.

If the current regime is allowed to attain nuclear weapons, the prevailing fear is that Ahmadinejad and the like-minded powerful in Iran would seek to bring about catastrophe in epic proportion in order to usher the way for the return of the Mahdi, or 12th Imam. With fanatic religious fervor like this predominating the minds of men with nuclear weapons at their disposal, MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) and the Cold War stalemate it brought about would be a psychological strategy rendered inert and non-applicable.

Through decades of neglect, the West has left itself with no palatable options and ceded the initiative to a regime that will possess nuclear arms with a keener eye for religious fulfillment than for their own survival.

February 5, 2006

Afghanistan Battles Continue

The battles between the Taliban and Afghan Army and police units, backed by U.S. forces, enters the third day in the troubled southeastern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Six Afghan policemen are killed in a roadside bombing near Kandahar as U.S. air forces conduct strikes in the Ghoraz region, where “close-air support was called to the scene of the attack. British Harriers, Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft responded to the scene, attacking enemy positions and forcing them to flee into a nearby town.”

The New York Times provides a summarized description of the battles, which began Thursday night, and resulted in chasing Taliban forces from Helmand into Kandahar. Three Taliban commanders and over thirty two Taliban are known to have been killed.

The battle — the largest in Afghanistan in months — erupted Thursday night when about 200 Taliban fighters ambushed a police patrol near the town of Sangin, then attacked reinforcements as they arrived. Coalition planes, including British Harriers and American A10 attack jets and B-52 bombers, joined the battle. In one attack on Friday night, a district administrator, Hajji Abdul Qudous, was killed and a policeman injured when militants fired a rocket into his offices in the district of Musa Qala, the deputy governor of Helmand Province, Mullah Amir Akhundzada, said. Hours later, in another attack on government office, this time in the Nauzad district, a government soldier and five militants were killed, he said.

The rebels had escaped into the mountainous area of Ghorak in the neighboring province of Kandahar, he said. He said 18 Taliban fighters had been killed, including 2 commanders, Tor Akhtar and Haji Nasro. “The Taliban were served a heavy blow,” he said.

In Kandahar, another Taliban commander, Abdul Samad, was killed by border forces as he tried to enter illegally from neighboring Pakistan with about 10 other militants, Kandahar’s governor, Asadullah Khalid, said, according to The Associated Press. The other insurgents fled back across the frontier.

On Saturday afternoon, coalition troops were continuing to search for fleeing Taliban fighters on the ground. The bombing forced some of them to flee to a nearby town, the United States military said in a statement.

It appears one of the Taliban commanders was arrested in September 2002; “Haji Nasro, a militia commander well-known throughout the region whose reputation was built resisting the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, was arrested Tuesday night at his home about 50 miles southwest of Kandahar.” It is not clear if he was released in an amnesty program or for other reasons. A recent amnesty program has lead to the surrender of over 1,000 Taliban and “included members of the extremist Hezb-e-Islami faction of wanted warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an anti-Soviet resistance commander who is part of a bloody anti-government insurgency.”

Engineer Mohammed Daud, the governor of Helmand recognizes the interrelationship between terrorism and criminal enterprise, “You cannot separate instability and drugs in this province. The smugglers and drug dealers have very close connections with the Taliban and both are supporting each other.” Daud is pushing for the eradication of the drug syndicates and implores the British force arriving in Helmand to work to this end. The Brits seem poised to help. The task is difficult as Helmand has little resources to fight on its own and the taint of drugs extends all the way to the Afghan Cabinet, according to various sources.

Iran Sent to Security Council by IAEA Vote

After a vote at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, the IAEA has finally sent Iran to the UN Security Council over its shadowy nuclear program, a vote bolstered by Iran’s own persistent belligerence. Iran’s response was swift.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors meeting, the vote was 27-3 in favor of sending Iran to the UN Security Council for review and possible sanctions. The three nations voting against the referral were Syria, Cuba and Venezuela. Five countries – Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa – abstained from the vote in a form of protest without opposition.

Before the vote, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)defended Iran’s nuclear energy program by saying that it was the right of each nation to develop and use nuclear technology for “peaceful purposes, without any discrimination and in conformity with their respective legal obligations”. The Non-Aligned Movement is a group that represents 115 developing nations, none of them signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran’s President Ahmadinejad immediately ordered the resumption of uranium enrichment and an end to IAEA snap inspections as well as canceled all other measures previously agreed to under the NPT and the Additional Protocol. All enrichment will take place on Iranian soil, as the Russian proposal was effectively declared dead. President Bush supported the Russian proposal to have Iranian enrichment carried out on Russian soil as an insurance policy against Iranian weapons-grade fissile material production. The value of that insurance policy has always been questionable, and many believe that the only way to stop the Iranian mullhacracy from developing nuclear weapons clandestinely is to stop the Iranian mullahcracy.

President Bush said of the IAEA vote, “This important step sends a clear message to the regime in Iran that the world will not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons.” But President Bush’s public stance on Iran in recent months has been markedly and uncharacteristically timid.

Europe, it appears, is increasingly taking the aggressive lead confronting the Iranian regime, past EU-3 ‘talks about talks’ on the Iranian nuclear crisis notwithstanding. (One writer went so far as to wonder aloud, “So who are the cheese-eating surrender monkeys now?”) Perhaps it is the proximity of Europe and the known range of Tehran’s missiles that would be used to deliver a nuclear strike that drives the Europeans. Perhaps it is an aware Bush Administration sensing that the world would largely balk at any forceful move by the United States against any foe amid any threat. Perhaps it is a combination of the two, with a patient Bush Administration calculating and orchestrating nimble diplomatic maneuvering until a timid Europe finally feels compelled to defend itself.

Whatever the causes and variables, the newfound European resolute determination is reflected in an opinion column appearing in The Scotsman, tellingly titled On the brink of battle against Iran’s weapons of mass destruction The author, no fan of the Iraq war or Tony Blair, opens with unambiguous determination: ”Iran is the new Iraq, in terms of Western apprehension. In this case, weapons of mass destruction are not a Blairite despatch-box fantasy but a real and looming menace.” He goes on to cite far more than the current nuclear crisis. With Iran, much of Europe appears to be finally finding its way.

This increasingly visible attitude throughout Europe falls in line with the thinking of US Senator John McCain, who said, “Every option must remain on the table. There is only one thing worse than military action, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran.”

February 4, 2006

Hamas & Abbas Agree on Palestinian Parliament

After a meeting between Hamas leaders and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, it was announced that the Hamas-led parliament will convene February 16. Hamas has chosen their Prime Minister and department ministers, but has not announced the names. Hamas leader Mamoud al-Zahar said that recognition of Israel was not a condition of forming the government, which Abbas had been under considerable pressure to demand. al-Zahar reiterated that Hamas has no intentions of recognizing Israel.

Also determined during the meeting was that Hamas would partially control the Palestinian security forces, with the police, the civil guard, and the Preventive Security Forces under the control of the Interior Minister, to be appointed by Hamas. The National Guard and the intelligence services will stay under the control of the Palestinian President, currently Fatah’s Abbas. Fatah members within the various security elements have said that they will not accept a security apparatus run by Hamas. The extent to which they honor President Abbas’ concession remains to be seen. This could be the precursor to internal red-on-red violence in the coming weeks.

On Friday, terrorists fired Qassam rockets from northern Gaza into Ashkelon and Karmia in Israel. The Karmia attack hit the home of an Israeli family, injuring all three including a 17-month old baby seriously. Israel fired a dozen rockets into the area of the firings.

In further response, an IDF attack helicopter fired missiles on a building in Gaza City where Israel had intelligence that a meeting was taking place among members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Three were killed when the helicopters fired on a car as they attempted to flee. Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, as well as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, is responsible for many of the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians in recent months.

Amidst the Fatah/Hamas meeting on the parliament and the Israeli airstrikes, Palestinians stormed a German cultural center and the European Commision building in protest of the Danish cartoons depicting hte Prophet Muhammad. Due to forces both internal and external, there will be little peaceful rest in the Palestinian Territories for the foreseeable future.

February 3, 2006

Cartoon Row

The cartoons depicting the image of the Prophet Mohammed, originally published in September by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, continue to draw criticism and outrage from Muslims around the world. Papers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Jordan have reproduced the cartoons as a show of support for freedom of speech. The fury over the republication has extended far beyond that of the original publication. Protests, boycotts and riots have taken place from Morocco to Malaysia. Others participating include those in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Yemen and the Sudan.

ProtestsIn the Palestinian Territories protesters surrounded the EU headquarters in Gaza City. In the West Bank, hour a German teacher was kidnapped and held for an before her captors where apprehended by Palestinian police. The Khaleej Times reports that foreign aid workers and journalists are leaving Gaza. The EU announced that, despite the reaction in the region, the EU would continue to provide aid to the Palestinians. That aid, however, is still bound to the conditions set forth in Thursday’s vote by the EU parliament to require the Hamas-led government in the territories to renounce its current position with regard to the existence of Israel.

Elsewhere, Pakistan’s parliament has condemned the cartoons as “blasphemous.” And President Musharraf said, “It is regrettable that the newspapers did not honour the sentiments of the Muslims throughout the world.” Afghan President Karzai likewise condemned the cartoons while calling for forgiveness and calm.

ProtestsIndonesian Muslims attacked the building which houses the Danish embassy, pelting the building with eggs before entering it by force and smashing chairs and lamps with bamboo sticks. In Malaysia, protesters and consumer advocacy groups have called for the boycott of Danish products and services, as well as stating that “the Danish government owed Muslims of the world an apology”.

The potential impact of the growing calls for boycotts has been felt by at least one firm, leading dairy provider Arla Foods, which is reported to have shut down operations in Saudi Arabia.

From our often distant viewpoint, similar to the way we struggle to comprehend suicide bombers, the significance of the ruleset by which much of the Islamic world is governed remains more than just cloaked. It is invisible to us. Likewise within the Muslim world, the delicate balance between the virtues of rule of law and tradition and the value of reason and moderation has been lost. Having issues such as the publication of cartoons, whether humorous or insulting, may bring further insight into our differences. It can present the opportunity to learn, but can also provide the fuel to further separate us. The choice remains for free men to make.

Battles in Helmand, Afghanistan

Afghan Army and police units, along with the U.S. military are engaged in combat with Taliban forces in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand. The Associated Press states the fighting began after Afghan “police were deployed to the Haji Fateh area to hunt for Taliban rebels” and the Taliban attacked the police forces. Afghan police and Army units poured into the region to engage what is believed to be a force of about 200 Taliban fighters, and U.S. air support, including A-10 Warthog ground-attack aircraft have been pounding the Taliban positions.

AfghanistanReuters initial report stated there have been four engagements in the area, and twenty Taliban and three police have been killed in the fighting. According to Mullah Mir, Helmand’s deputy provincial governor, “We’re sending more reinforcements. The fighting is still going on.” The latest report indicates “Two well-known Taliban commanders, Mullah Torjan and Haji Nasru, are among those enemy forces who were killed today [during clashes in Helmand],” along with thirty Taliban fighters.

A Taliban spokesman denies their forces took heavy casualties; “speaking by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location, said only two Taliban were wounded.” If he spoke on a satellite phone, or any other phone for that matter, it is highly likely his U.S. intelligence was listening location is no longer undisclosed.

Taliban forces have repeatedly taken heavy casualties when engaging in conventional combat, and today’s engagement is likely to be no different.

While the fighting continues in Helmand, the Dutch Parliament has approved the deployment of 1,400 troops to neighboring Uruzgan province. The increase in suicide attacks and current fighting have not deterred the Dutch from fulfilling their commitment to NATO. There are fears the 5,500 British troops preparing to deploy to Helmand province may be facing in influx of foreign fighters. Ghulam Dusthaqir, Nimroz’s provincial government, states there is a batch coming in from Iraq; “They’re linked to al-Qa’eda and fought against US forces in Iraq. They have been ordered to come here. Many are suicide bombers.”

The foreign terrorists are likely to be coming from regions other than Iraq. The Pak Tribune reports nine foreigners were recently arrested in Nimroz province. The home countries of lhose arrested leaned more towards the subcontinent than the Middle East; “one Iraqi, two Kashmiris from Pakistan administered Kashmir and five Bangladeshis.” In Khost, a suicide car-bomber (which was “carried out by a man dressed as a woman”) killed five, including three Afghan soldiers and two construction workers, while a roadside bomb detonated in Kandahar. No one was hurt in the Kandahar attack. While the attacks may mirror those carried out in Iraq, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are merely using the tactics that have been successful in other Islamist conflicts, including Chechnya, Kashmir, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Hamas Ignores Regional Calls for Moderation

As the world watches the diplomatic dialogue between Middle East regional powers and the popularly elected Hamas government-in-forming in the Palestinian Territories, the most telling discussions are happening not between Egypt and Hamas in Cairo or Jordan and Hamas in Amman, but rather between Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Damascus, Syria. While Egypt called on Hamas to reverse the rhetoric and recognize Israel and Jordan pleaded with Hamas to renounce violence and engage in the peace process, Hamas has steadfastly and consistently refused any such notions, and instead turned away and extended a hand of cooperation to the leadership of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in hopes of forming a political coalition.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that, while he does not think Hamas will form a ‘government of terror’, he urges Hamas to recognize Israel as the only way to a peaceful solution. He said to an Israeli newspaper in an interview, “If Hamas wants to establish a government, Hamas must recognize Israel. I don’t want to say what Khaled Meshaal needs to declare and what Hamas needs to do in order for you (Israel) to accept it. But without recognizing Israel, it won’t work.” Hamas has recently claimed that it has a very good relationship with Egypt, but it should be noted that this relationship is with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas was formed as an offshoot in 1987, and not with the government of Egypt.

King Abdullah of Jordan urged Hamas to renounce violence in a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. To that end, King Abdullah said “all sides in the Palestinian territories [need to] understand the requirements of this period, deal with it logically, and prove to the whole world that there is a Palestinian partner able to go forward to achieve peace.” King Abdullah has been admirably active in his own country, taking the initiative to actively move toward establishing democracy in Jordan while aggressively fighting terrorism. Both efforts receive far too little praise and attention.

But while Egypt and Jordan have joined the chorus from both inside and outside the Middle East calling on them to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to renounce violence (the chosen polite term for terrorism), Hamas has steadfastly refused these calls at every turn.

Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ politburo chief in Damascus, said rather clearly that Hamas will never recognize Israel, saying to a Palestinian newspaper, “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist state that was established on our land.” Yet, inexplicably, as if to offer Israel an existence in the short term only to be destroyed at a later date, Meshaal went on to add, “If you (Israel) are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce then we will be ready to negotiate with you over the conditions of such a truce.”

Yet even when Saudi Arabia joined the Jordanian King’s call on Hamas to moderate their stance on Israel, Hamas chose instead to meet with the leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in an attempt to bring the even more violent terrorist group into a Hamas-led coalition to govern in the Palestinian Territories. The PIJ confirmed that the meeting took place, but reaffirmed their refusal to work with Hamas in any form of political alliance.

These are the early words and choices of a Hamas that was freely and fairly elected, and tone-setters and indicators of a turbulent future for the Palestinian people. It is widely said that Hamas was elected to eliminate the deep corruption of Fatah, which is true. But it should also be recognized that this does not necessarily mean that Hamas was elected also to eliminate Israel. Yet, the elimination of Israel seems to be their primary governing stance, and their primary campaign pledge of ending corruption decidedly secondary.

Iran Formalizes Threat of Enrichment

Iran is now set to be referred to the Security Council, as the IAEA head, Mohamed ElBaredei says that Iran has one month to comply and Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani repeated the now-daily threat that Iran will resume uranium enrichment ”without restrictions”if they are referred. This time around, however, the Iranian threats came in the form of a formal letter to the IAEA. Even still, ElBaredei downplayed the situation by stating, “We are reaching a critical phase but it is not a crisis.”

From the Iranian Culture Center in Peshawar, Pakistani Finance Minister Sirajul Haq declared that an attack on Iran would be construed as attack on Pakistan. This is likely not the view held by President Musharraf, to say the least. Haq also added, in speaking to the largely Iranian-heritage crowd, that President Ahmadinejad was now the ’spokesman of the entire one billion Islamic Ummah.’

In Turkey, however, after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Iran take a more “moderate and amenable” approach to the current stand-off with the West over its nuclear program, Iran sent their response in the form of cutting of 80% of the natural gas supplied through a pipeline between the two countries. While Iran blamed the cut-off on poor winter weather conditions, they did manage to ‘restore’ supplies to Georgia, which had been cut off in the same timeframe.

Iran is also looking to draw the Chinese into a role in the Russian proposal, which looks to have Iranian uranium enriched outside the Islamic Republic and have spent fuel returned to Russian soil. Iran also recently signed with China an agreement to explore for oil in the Caspian Sea. The Chinese appear to be Iran’s best hope at throwing a wrench into the UN Security Council process.

President Bush has recently said that he supports the Russian proposal, which can be seen as troubling. While, if agreed upon, can mean a peaceful solution for now, it will only forestall a nuclear armed Iran, and not prevent it. The only way to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program is to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. It should not be assumed that if Iran signed such a proposal that they would not continue forth underground in developing a nuclear weapon, with or without the IAEA occasionally probing around sites. At the end of the day, the IAEA will go where the Iranians want them to go, and will not go where the Iranians do not want them to go. This much should be learned from experience in both North Korea and (in the form of weapons inspectors) Hussein’s Iraq.

Under Secretary of state Robert Joseph reminds that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons from both uranium and plutonium, citing the construction of a heavy water plant and a heavy water research reactor. Both of these facilities have been known for some time. Heavy water plants are used to produce plutonium, much more effective than Uranium in bombs, allowing for either a far greater blast or a far smaller and lighter warhead, important when considering missile capability restraints. Plutonium can be produced by reprocessing spent uranium fuel, which is why the Russian proposal calls for the return of spent fuel to Russian soil. This does not take into account fissile material produced or acquired from outside the Russian facilities’ control, which is one of the weaknesses that makes any Russian proposal appear as a false sense of security.

Regarding the nuclear crisis and the row with the US, EU and the UN/IAEA, President Ahmadinejad characterized it as a waste of Iran’s time by saying, “The enemies initial impression was that if the new Iranian government finds the chance to implement its policies for one year, their withdrawal from the region and the Middle East will be definite. That is why they are trying to waste our time by getting us involved in the nuclear case and political games in this respect. But we have called their cards.” He also went on to denounce the West’s attempts to bring on regime change from within.

Senator Brownback said that the U.S. must fund Iranian opposition groups within Iran. This is something that should have been undertaken decades ago. If this had been undertaken, the world would likely not be in the position it finds itself today, facing the threat of a nuclear Iran. Had the course of tangibly and effectively supporting internal opposition to the mullah regime been undertaken then, we would likely be debating Iranian politics and their preference between communist parties and socialist parties. But we would likely not be debating which bad option available is the least painful.

February 2, 2006

Foreign Fighters Found in Ramadi

The city of Ramadi has seen some progress of late in the fight against the insurgency. While Ramadi, the provincial capital and largest city in Anbar, is perhaps one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq, the government has been working to gain local support and cleave off the domestic nationalist elements of the insurgency from the more violent Islamist and foreign elements. One result has been the declaration of war against al-Qaeda by the Islamic Army in Iraq and other insurgent groups.

The Iraqi Army has taken on greater responsibilities in the province, with Operation Final Strike being one such recent example. Today, a raid on a factory in the Tameem district in Ramadi was led by the 1st Brigade, 7th Division of the Iraqi Army, and netted an insurgent cell. The Multi-National Force-West press release states “The intelligence attained by the Iraqi soldiers led to the capture of 15 suspected insurgents, 11 of which are identified as Syrian nationals and the remaining four as Iraqis.” A cache of 36 AK-47 assault rifles was also found in the factory.

The intelligence used to capture the Syrians was not disclosed, however most of the intelligence behind raids of this nature is derived from residents. Another possibility is the insurgents that have decided to fight al-Qaeda have provided the Iraqi Army with information. As they have colluded with al-Qaeda in the past, the insurgents would have an understanding of their operations.

Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, the Public Affairs Officer for Multi-National Force-West, stressed the Iraqi Army, and not tribal militias, are to be credited for the operation; “This raid was conducted by Iraqi soldiers, not any of the tribal groups that I’ve been reading about in the press. There were American soldiers in support but this was an Iraqi Army raid.” In a follow up question to Captain Pool on the issue of the Karabila tribe purportedly rounding up 270 al-Qaeda fighters, he stated this would be positive news which, if accurate, certainly would be communicated by Multi-National Force-West.

February 1, 2006

Palestine: From The River To The Sea

There will be no hudna. Mahmoud al-Zahar made that clear just days before uttering the word to the West through CNN.

Three days ago, it was widely reported that Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar offered ‘hudna’ (truce) to Israel if they simply recognize the pre-1967 borders and give them more land. Al-Zahar told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview that if Israel “is ready to give us the national demand to withdraw from the occupied area [in] ‘67; to release our detainees; to stop their aggression; to make geographic link between Gaza Strip and West Bank, at that time, with assurance from other sides, we are going to accept to establish our independent state at that time, and give us one or two, 10, 15 years time in order to see what is the real intention of Israel after that. We can accept to establish our independent state on the area occupied [in] ‘67….after that, let time heal.”

Many in the West assume al-Zahar means ‘heal the differences between Israel and the Palestinians.’ This is a dangerous assumption.

Today, for the West, the true taqiyyah of al-Zahar’s words is exposed, thanks to the translators and observers from MEMRI. Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar gave an interview on Al-Manar TV just four days before his setting conditions for ‘hudna’ with Israel on air with the West’s CNN. al-Manar is on the State Department’s Terrorism Exclusion List and was established by Hezbollah in 1991. What he said to them bears no resemblance to what he told Blitzer, CNN and the English-speaking West.

Said al-Zahar, ””Palestine means Palestine in its entirety - from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River, from Ras Al-Naqura to Rafah. We cannot give up a single inch of it. Therefore, we will not recognize the Israeli enemy’s [right] to a single inch. That is one thing. The second thing is that if the right of return is an individual right, neither Mahmoud Al-Zahar nor ‘Abbas Zaki can relinquish it, because all these concessions will constitute a national catastrophe.”

If Israel were to appease Hamas and return to the pre-1967 borders, this would not be the beginning of a time to ‘heal’ relationships. This would be the beginning of a time for Hamas to grow, arm and develop in order to reach for The Sea, possibly after “one or two, 10, 15 years time”.

Regarding the feigned acceptance of a Palestinian state drawn by pre-1967 borders, those who remain (somewhat understandably) blinded by hope should heed his next words in the interview. He states clearly in Arabic that Hamas’ ultimate destination is the entire coast of the Mediterranean Sea, From Lebanon to Egypt, extending eastward to the River Jordan, regardless of where they start from.

al-Zahar continued, ”The third point is that we can found a state on any piece of the land, and this will not mean we give up on any other part of the land.”

There can be no mistaking and there can be no negotiating. Any concession will be received not as settlement, but as one step towards The Sea today on their way forward to reaching it tomorrow.

Those calling for a reformed Hamas would be well advised to reconsider. Hamas must be abandoned by the moderates within it and reconstitute themselves under a completely new and unaffiliated banner, one which is founded with a clear recognition of the right of both states to exist under a mutually agreed border and condemns and forgoes terrorist attacks on civilians. Hamas has no credibility to market themselves under a charter rewritten or edited to state as such, in the unlikely event they chose to take taqiyyah that far. The moderates who constitute Hamas, if they exist, should grant their angry, murderous brothers sole ownership of Hamas, but not join them and perpetuate the suffering of all Palestinians, both this generation and the next.

Adventures in Afghanistan

The resurgence of the Taliban has been predicted each year since the fall of the Taliban in the winter of 2002. The fact that over 1,600 Afghanis were killed during combat is often touted as evidence for the Taliban’s resurgence, however obscured in this number is the fact that the vast majority of those killed were Taliban fighters. Over the spring and summer, of 2005, the Taliban attempted to engage Coalition forces in mass formations, and were repeatedly destroyed en masse. The Taliban’s only success worth mentioning was the downing of a U.S. Special Operations helicopter in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. When elections were held in September of 2005, the Taliban mounted no meaningful operations to prevent the Afghani people’s exercising of their democratic right to vote.

Pak - Afghan Border RegionBut the Taliban’s failure to disrupt the election and their losses in open combat does not spell an overall defeat for the movement. al-Qaeda has shifted resources to the region, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda still maintain bases of operations across the border in Pakistan, and the Pakistani government has been largely ineffective in removing them from the tribal regions.

The southeastern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan remain troubled regions of Afghanistan, and bases of operations for the Pashtun-supported Taliban. The Times Online states the Taliban is laying in wait for the British contingent readying to deploy into Helmand province, and quotes a “western intelligence source” with a negative view on the situation in the region; “The Taliban are not just regrouping in the south; they are winning… Two years ago they were wintering in Pakistan. Last year they stayed in Helmand all year but wintered in remote hills. This year they have remained in the villages.” The Taliban have recently burned down three schools in the region in an attempt to intimidate the residents and prevent the schooling of children.

The province of Kandahar has been the scene of increased activity of late. Two bombs were defused close to the U.S. Embassy, and a suicide bomber was detained in a “a minibus packed with explosives and gas canisters close to a U.S. base.” Nine suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters were arrested in Kandahar, seven of whom were Afghanis and two Pakistanis. The Pakistanis were “preparing to become suicide bombers.”

A fight between residents of the town of Spin Boldak and the Taliban left two Taliban and one resident dead. The Post reports the residents of Spin Boldak, which sits on the border with Pakistan, instigated the fight after the Taliban attempted to enforce its strict brand of Sharia law; “the villagers attacked the Taliban rebels who had blockaded a road and were confiscating music cassettes from passing cars. After seizing and breaking the cassettes, the insurgents informed travellers that music was forbidden by Islam.” Spin Boldak is the location of a Taliban suicide bombing that killed twenty residents during a religious festival, and sparked protests from the locals, who chanted “death to Pakistan, death to al-Qaeda and death to the Taliban.”

The Washington Post reports on problems in the province of Uruzgan, the home of Taliban leader Mohammad Omar. Lt. Gen Karl W. Eikenberry, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, describes the security situation as being “certainly… toward the bottom.” The hesitation of the Dutch, who are slated to take over in the province, is viewed as a weakness by the Taliban and there are fears this debate will be exploited to cause divisions within NATO.

The Dutch continue to debate their deployment commitment, but Radio Netherlands reports “the largest opposition party, Labour (PvdA) gave its blessing to the new mission,” paving the way for the Dutch to fulfill their obligation. Australia has stated it is willing to send 200 additional troops to assist the Dutch in Uruzgan.

While the Coalition works to stabilize the security situation in southeastern Afghanistan, an international conference is discussing aid and security commitments to the nation. The United States has pledged $1.1 Billion in economic aid over the next year, and Russia has agreed to relieve Afghanistan of its $10 Billion in debt. Reuters states economic growth is expected is expected to be substantial over the next year; “The IMF forecast economic growth of 14 percent in 2005/06, slowing to 10 percent by the end of the year, with activity buoyant in the construction and services sectors.”

But Afghanistan’s poppy problem continues to remain a major problem for stability. The poppy/opium trade accounts for just over half of Afghanistan’s GDP, and efforts to reduce farming and production have produced marginal results. Warlords, the Taliban and al-Qaeda use the poppy trade to fund their enterprises, creating additional security problems for the nascent government. The Counterterrorism Blog’s Robert Charles states “CENTCOM and NATO’s Operational Commander have just declared narcotics to be ‘the number one threat’ to Afghanistan’s democracy and freedom.”

The challenges in Afghanistan are great, and the importance of the narcotics trade in Afghan society adds an increased level of complexity to the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Yet al-Qaeda and the Taliban arguably have a better support system across the border in Pakistan than the insurgents possess outside Iraq, and years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan to build upon, and can only muster a fraction of the violence that is seen in Iraq. Both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have boasted in their most recent statements that the U.S. has been defeated in Afghanistan, yet secretly al-Qaeda must be concerned that four years after the fall of the Taliban, it has been unable to mount a significant resistance in what was once the model state for the Islamic Caliphate.

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